On the first play of the first NFL SkyCam broadcast, a quarterback threw to a receiver who had lined up wide and was initially unseen by the audience. Five plays later, we watched that same receiver streak downfield and get open -- even before the quarterback noticed and threw to him for a 41-yard touchdown.
Those two connections between Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and receiver Antonio Brown illustrated the limited utility of the SkyCam angle. Although it excited viewers during an unplanned weather-forced appearance in Week 7, especially those who found it familiar to the "Madden" video game perspective, it received more mixed reviews when NBC intentionally used it for most of the Steelers' Week 11 victory over the Tennessee Titans.
An unscientific ESPN poll found 52 percent approval among nearly 9,500 respondents. More importantly, none of the NFL's four broadcasters would commit this week to televising another game primarily from the SkyCam view. For now it appears more likely to serve as a secondary option, destined one day as a digital choice and also a platform for further innovation.
"We enjoyed the challenge of presenting last Thursday's game with much of the live action covered by SkyCam," an NBC spokesman said. "As we expected, there was a range of reaction as some fans have become accustomed to the traditional camera angles, while many others were excited to watch the game from a perspective that they've grown up with, but was new to television. We look forward to evaluating the telecast further in the coming days."
A CBS spokesperson said: "We will continue to use SkyCam aggressively but there are no changes planned to our core coverage."
ESPN has routinely offered SkyCam views as part of its supplementary digital and command center for college football. Ed Placey, senior coordinating producer for college football, said earlier this month that "there was enough of an appetite" to continue providing SkyCam views as an alternative but that "there are too many times when it has an inferior angle."
As for NFL coverage on Monday Night Football, an ESPN spokesman said: "We will continue to use SkyCam on Monday Night Football, primarily on replays but also live on specific plays when viewers will benefit from this perspective as the primary view."
A Fox Sports executive, meanwhile, said it is more likely that SkyCam will provide an avenue for new content rather than replace the current approach.
"I don't know if using a SkyCam as a main view is really worth making a big thing about," said Michael Davies, senior vice president of field and technical operations. "Because we've been able to mix it in with our regular coverage. It's not a one-size fits all. I think there are certain plays and certain situations where it make sense to use the SkyCam live as your play-by-play, and there are certain times where cameras 1, 2 or 3 do a great job as well. I think it's a platform that can work for that. Whether or not you use it for your whole main angle, I think it's a good tool to use among all the other tools that are out there."
While the verdict appears to have fallen against SkyCam as a primary view, it does lend itself to other experiments. For the Notre Dame-Michigan State game on Sept. 23, Fox engineers attached a 360-degree camera to the SkyCam structure, providing social media and YouTube users with modified virtual reality of pregame and halftime festivities. The feature will also be available for this weekend's Michigan-Ohio State game, and it's not difficult to imagine it making its way into both the NFL, perhaps to provide in-game highlights, in the future.
"I think there's just a lot more to [SkyCam]," Davies said. "We think it's an important live camera, and we're certainly thankful for that and use it for that, but there's a lot more to it as well."
Ultimately, even if not immediately, broadcasters won't face an either-or choice between traditional and SkyCam views. The looming digital broadcasting era will allow audience members to make that decision with the click of a mouse. In the short term, however, there is no indication that SkyCam will spark a paradigm change in the way football is broadcast to its main audience. So it goes.